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University News

Med School breaks ground on new home

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

An abandoned jewelry factory seemed an odd venue for a gathering of University officials, politicians, alums and lab-coat-clad medical students on Monday afternoon. The old factory’s floor was hidden under sheets of cardboard taped together, and the bright orange spray paint on the walls stood out against the white sheetrock.

But with a few swings of a sledgehammer by President Ruth Simmons and Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Edward Wing, the building was on its way to becoming the new home of the Alpert Medical School in Providence’s former Jewelry District. The groundbreaking celebration itself was held in what is to become a lecture hall, though you wouldn’t have guessed it from being there.

“The importance of this building really can’t be overstated,” said Wing, who presided over the groundbreaking celebration. “We haven’t had a home.”

The building is expected to be transformed by August 2011.

In addition to providing newer resources for the Med School, the building will allow each class to grow from 96 to 120 students. The new home will also enable the school to institute an academy system, in which each student is assigned to an academy of 40 students from differing years for the purposes of mentorship and fostering a sense of community.

Simmons agreed that the building has been a long time coming.

“When I first arrived at Brown, I had a wonderful meeting with the medical students and they said one thing to me,” Simmons said. “And that is: We need a home.”

In explaining how that goal is being realized and reflecting on her recent trip to India, Simmons emphasized the importance of strong community partnerships.

“We have a partnership here in this country where private donors, public officials, corporations, foundations — so many different individuals — see the need for outstanding education and they come together to make it happen,” Simmons said. “We understand the value of that here at Brown.”

Simmons added that the University is “delighted” to bring jobs to the community and support the economy.

Gov. Donald Carcieri ’65 agreed that a project such as the new Med School is “always a partnership of many pieces,” and he said the state also hopes to see a new nursing school built adjacent to the new Med School to support existing nursing programs at the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College.

Providence Mayor David Cicilline ’83 said the new building would help the economy by providing some 500 construction jobs and 57 permanent jobs. He also said it would help Providence institutions compete for research grants while encouraging companies like Isis Biopolymer to locate in the area.

“There is now developing a critical mass of new companies that are coming into the Knowledge District,” Cicilline said. “The presence of this great medical school from a spectacular university will add to that significantly.”

Patrick Worth MD’11, president of the Medical Student Senate, called the new building an “inspiration and a call to action,” rather than a reward to be taken for granted by future students.

Michael Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, praised the University for utilizing the Building Futures Program for the Med School’s construction.

The program stipulates that Providence residents will perform 15 percent of the construction hours on the project, and successful workers on the project will be eligible to enter a building trade apprenticeship program that will put them “well on their way to a solid, family-supporting career path in the construction industry,” according to Sabitoni.

“Needless to say, Brown University’s commitment in these difficult times is second to none,” he said. “Brown is clearly distinguishing itself from its local institutional peers by not only continuing to invest in our economy — when it would have been easier for them not to — but also making an affirmative commitment to use local labor and Providence residents on all of these construction projects.”

After a short video, Wing and Simmons had a surprise in store. To the beat of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” they each grabbed a sledgehammer and — after Cicilline jocularly handed Simmons a hard hat in the spirit of safety — they got to work on a wall of the abandoned jewelry factory.

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